Just off Long Beach Blvd., up through Bixby Knolls, far north of the downtown space where I write these words, there's a quiet nook of suburban living that hides a gigantic gem: Will J. Reid Scout Park.
Tucked away at 4747 Daisy Ave. (at least if you can "tuck away" such a space) is nearly 12 acres of woodland, hummocks, and campgrounds that somehow have survived undisturbed—though with a concrete amphitheater and a few other functional amenities—amidst the urban development of Long Beach in the 60 years since it was donated to the Boy Scout's Long Beach Area Council.
Unfortunately (at least if you're enough of a preservationist to feel Long Beach should never lose such a geographical respite from our minor metropolitanism), the fate of this space is by no means secure, as the Boy Scouts have long been looking to sell the land. However much attachment the Scouts may have to the camp—scouting events take place at the camp almost every weekend—the Boy Scouts of America is also a business.
"Every [Boy Scout] council in the country is having financial difficulties," says Wayne Persing, the 40-year BSA volunteer who acts as the camp's chief custodian. "It's one of the best-kept secrets in Long Beach. It's a jewel. […] If we have to sell it, that would be a shame. We'll survive, but that would be a bad day."
Multiple Boy Scout sources indicate that in the recent past the Scouts were engaged in serious discussions with the City about buying the camp. "The City says, 'Well, we'll leave it like it is,'" says Persing of those discussions, "but that'll only work until the political winds change, and then they'll use it for something else and take it away from us for sure."
Deputy City Manager Reggie Harrison, however, says talk of the purchase occurred only several years ago, and that "there was never any serious discussion."1
Enter the Salvation Army, which has continued to look for alternatives to its proposed Kroc Center project, which had been slated for construction on 19 acres at Hamilton Bowl but fell through in May of last year.
By all accounts, discussions about the Salvation Army purchasing the Will J. Reid Scout Park are both serious and ongoing.
The Salvation Army's point person on this issue is Major Edward Markum, who speaks of the possibility of acquiring the camp—a possibility that he says all comes down to funding—as another stage in the Salvation Army's "continuing our growth of service to community. We want to be more than we are today, and this location could help us offer more and better services."
But Markum is quick to point out that the idea of acquiring the camp "is not to build another Kroc Center." That, he says, would not properly respect the land.
"We would not be looking to do something that would encompass the entire property," he continues, indicating that much of the square footage involved in construction would be vertical. "We can't overbuild; that would just be foolish. We want to leave as much of property in its natural state as possible. […] It's just too nice of a place to mess up."
Councilmember Rae Gabelich, in whose 8th District the camp is located, concurs. But she notes that the sale of the camp by the Boy Scouts to the Salvation Army would be a private party-to-party transaction, and so keeping the camp pristine is up to the parties involved. Of her meetings with the groups involved, Gabelich reports, "They seemed to embrace that idea and said that was their goal."
But based on her experience with the situation years ago, when the Scouts first tried to interest the City in the camp, Gabelich is wary. "They were fishing for a use," she says, recalling that the Scouts' suggested the City might purchase it and build housing on the site. "[But] this is a piece of our history, and I believe the way that it was [originally] deeded was to provide open space for the Boy Scouts; and I don't think the [Reid] family had any idea that it might be used to save [the Boy Scouts] from whatever financial distresses they might have."
Gabelich also feels chagrin about the way the Salvation Army's Kroc Center project fell through. "That was a serious loss to the City of Long Beach," she says.
But she labels all of this "water under the bridge. […] If they come back and are willing to make that commitment […] to enhance recreational opportunities in challenging neighborhoods, provide programs for our kids outside of the streets, they would have my support."
One of the unique features of the site is how open the Boy Scouts have made it to the public. Persing says we are all welcome to walk in anytime,2 so long as we don't interfere with whatever Boy Scout or other events might be taking place.
Moreover, the rates for more intensive use are impossibly cheap. In 2010, camping overnight was $5 per person; use of the picnic area was $3 person; and the entire campfire bowl/amphitheatre could be rented for $35 per three-hour block of time. While Persing reports that the rates will be going up, he says they will not become cost-prohibitive.
We can only hope that whoever controls the camp, both now and in the future, will keep it unspoiled and accessible to all. As Gabelich says, "It should remain open space, and available to the community."
1Persing allows that this may be accurate: "You know how it is: the people down in the trenches are the last ones to know."
2As evidence, I walked into the camp unannounced through the wide-open gate on Wednesday, December 5th, at around 4 p.m. to shoot the pictures accompanying this piece. (And for the hour or so I was there I had the entire 12 acres to myself.)